By SHELLY WILKISON
As if tempers were not already high enough between some council members and supporters of the City Manager, the Mayor ejected three citizens from a meeting Monday after they applauded and verbally affirmed a statement made by another Council member that was critical of the Mayor.
Supporters of interim City Manager Greg Boatright filled the City Council Chamber Monday where elected officials were scheduled to review a job description and his employment contract. Many of those present were among the 150 signers on a petition to keep Boatright in the job. The petition was presented to the Council by Jon Branigan, the son of Councilmember Elizabeth Branigan.
Mayor Jamie Williamson directed a Liberty Hill police officer to remove Janet Oliver, whom the Council just minutes before appointed to the Parks & Recreation Board. Mrs. Oliver wrote a letter to the editor supporting Boatright that appeared in the August 22 edition of The Independent. Two others were also removed.
The three were among a number of people who applauded after Mayor Pro Tem Connie Fuller told the Mayor that if she would “decide” she could work with Boatright, communication could improve making it unnecessary to direct Boatright to provide an update in writen form.
Mrs. Brewer made the motion for Boatright to provide the Council with a written update of all of his communications with other entities after the Mayor said the Council should know of his discussions regarding water and wastewater issues. That motion passed 3-2 with Mrs. Fuller and Councilman Wendell McLeod voting no.
The Mayor has the right to remove members of the audience if she believes they are disrupting the meeting. In April 2012, prior to her election as Mayor, Mrs. Williamson was ejected from a council meeting by then-Mayor Michelle “Mike” Murphy for being disruptive. In response, Mrs. Williamson filed a complaint of official oppression against Murphy.
Following the disruption on Monday, Mrs. Brewer quickly moved that the Council adopt a job description for a city manager/public works director that would have required special licensing, effectively eliminating Boatright as a candidate for the job.
Although she did not second the motion and it died for lack of a second, Ms. Branigan said that the change in the job description was “not a political move. It was a practical move.”
Earlier in the meeting, her son, Jon Branigan, told the Council that writing the job description to require water and wastewater licensing was not realistic.
“If there is another city manager/public works operator in the state who holds a Class A license, they are not going to come here for what this city is willing to pay,” he said.
Jon Branigan previously stated that the attempt to write the description requiring water and wastewater licenses was little more than an attempt to exclude Boatright from consideration. Boatright was hired as an interim manager and director of the Economic Development Corp. in May and his contract expires at the end of September. A budget proposal by the Mayor does not include funding for a city manager.
Jon Branigan said the petition he submitted to the Council and provided to The Independent is signed by 77 business owners and 74 residents of the city for a combined total of 151 signatures.
“More residents of the city signed this petition than voted in the last (city council) election (May 2013),” he said. “77 (business owners) don’t have a vote, but we pay taxes. We are creating the growth and we don’t have a vote, but we do have a say-so.”
Ms. Branigan said the City needs a public works director, especially in light of continued reports of “radon in the water system and contaminated wells. We need to bring this in house and have tighter controls.” Currently, the company Severn-Trent is managing the water system for the City of Liberty Hill.
A short time later, Mrs. Fuller made a motion to adopt a job description for the manager’s position that reflected shared duties with the EDC. Attorney Art Rodriguez made suggestions for non-substantive changes that would conform it to state law with regards to supervision of certain employees and the type of government for Liberty Hill. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote with Mrs. Brewer and Ms. Branigan voting no.
A motion to approve an employment contract that mirrored the job description proposed by Mrs. Fuller failed by a 2-3 vote with Mrs. Brewer, Ms. Branigan and Councilmember Liz Rundzieher voting no.
“The City Council as a whole was not given the opportunity to discuss what we think (the position) is valued at. The council had no opportunity to rebut anything. That’s truly amazing. This is not a negotiated contract. It is something the council is being dictated to do by an employee,” Mrs. Brewer said.
Mrs. Rundzieher then made a motion directing the attorney to review the contract and bring it back to the Council with any revisions at its next meeting.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, the Council heard support for Boatright from Dr. Thad Gillespie, owner of Liberty Hill Dental; Valerie Zapien, an employee of Liberty Hill Dental and Board member of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce; Jack Harkrider, a former city council member; and Jon Branigan.
In other business Monday, the Council 3-2 with Mrs. Brewer and Ms. Branigan opposed, to direct the Mayor to meet with Boatright and EDC President Frank Spinosa in an effort to resolve any differences between the Mayor and Spinosa.
The Mayor wants Spinosa removed from the EDC Board, claiming the Board has not submitted reports to the council since August 2012. She said the Bylaws require the EDC to submit reports more frequently, and it had been fined for filing one report late.
“Mr. Spinosa’s language is not what I consider completely professional at the last meeting or at other meetings,” the Mayor added.
Mrs. Fuller said it is the responsibility of city staff to remind volunteers serving on committees when reports are due.
“We need to be more gracious to people,” Mrs. Fuller said.
The Mayor and Spinosa have been at odds for some time. The Mayor said she has attempted to meet with Spinosa, but he refused to do so without a witness. When he brought his personal secretary to a meeting, Mayor Williamson said she was not obligated to include her in the conversation.
Mrs. Brewer reminded the Council that former city manager Manuel De La Rosa also requested the Council remove Spinosa from the EDC Board claiming he could not work with him. The council at that time denied the request.
In other matters, the Council:
- Voted unanimously to seeks bids on the city’s annual audit rather than taking action on an engagement letter from Donald Allman.
- Voted 3-2 with Mrs. Brewer and Ms. Branigan voting no to seek RFP’s (Requests for Proposals) for operation of water and wastewater systems.
- Voted unanimously to approve an engagement letter with Andrews Kurtz Bond Counsel enabling the City to continue using the legal services of Julia Houston, who switched law firms.
- Voted 4-1 with Mrs. Brewer the lone no vote to send a revised zoning map to the Planning & Zoning Commission for review before the Council finally adopts it.
- Voted unanimously to direct the Attorney to review current rules on water and wastewater billing and to make suggestions for making the policies consistent.
- Delayed action on an engineering Task Order submitted by the city’s engineering company Steger Bizzell regarding the connection to the City of Leander to obtain water for Liberty Hill.
The City opened RFQ’s from four engineering firms on Monday — each looking to obtain the project. While the Mayor and McLeod wanted to use Steger Bizzell to avoid time delays, Boatright said the Council had requested RFQ’s and companies responded, therefore, the council should take the time to review those.
“I don’t see why two weeks delay would cause problems,” said Mrs. Brewer. When a representative of Steger Bizzell said the company had been asked to submit a Task Order on the project, Mrs. Brewer said it was an example of “the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. The Council was not aware you were asked to present a Task Order on this.”
In previous meetings, Mrs. Brewer and other council members expressed concern about the firm’s proposed increases in fees, prompting the Council to want to explore other engineering firms.